Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Response to a Challenge: My Formative Geek Moments

Cruising around checking out OD&D resources brought me past The Wasted Lands once again. I read Grey Elf's most recent challenge and something in it inspired me. Truth be told I've been thinking about kickstarting the old blog again, but was simply unsure of the direction to take her. Not sure why, but this seemed a good place to start.

So without further ado -- for your reading humor, my rise in Geekery ...

I was born in in the age of flying saucers. In the late 60's and early 70's in my part of the Earth, it seemed we were near being invaded by lights flitting across the evening and night sky, and by discs that landed in rural sites across the countryside. The local newspapers were awash in such reports, and TV programs covered them in relation to the international race to the moon. I even recall watching the Apollo 17 lunar landing in 1972 on our small black & white television in the living room. My saucer obsession lasted well into 1976, despite the waning of sightings. I inherited a pair of old metal binocs from my dad -- well I actually snuck them at night after he was asleep for some time before he discovered my interests and passed them on to me. I would sit by my window which had a good view of the southern sky and scan the stars for hours. Some nights, when I could stay up late I would lie on our driveway staring up into the stars, imagining what life would be like out there. My interest expanded into all things space related, and I developed a strong interest in space travel, astronomy and anything vaguely "astronautic". I eventually wrote a letter to a regular column in the paper asking about the dearth of saucer sighting since the early 70's and got a thoughtful and helpful response.

Of course I was coming into my science fiction own just about the time Star Wars came out and it so blew the Star Trek and Lost in Space re-runs that I watched out of the water that I was never the same. Like Grey Elf said this was a water shed moment for me, and I too recall staring wide-eyed up at the big screen not believing what I saw--and at the same time believing with all of my heart that this was a possibility.

I should also give due space to my 3rd grade teacher. He was a science specialist and had python's, hamsters, turtles, fish, lizards, and a jungle of plants cared for in all parts of our third grade classroom. I came to him with a strong love of the outdoors and animals already strongly in place, but he deepened my understanding of these realms so much more than I could realize at the time. I told him early on my plans to be a biologist (I knew biologist got to study weird animals in weird places and that was all I needed), and the very next day he brought me one of his college level biology textbooks. I also loved the way he taught math as a system, not as an endless memorization of facts, and I am convinced he started in me my first love for real mathematics--no pun intended.

I also should give adequate voice to good parents. My Dad got me into model building, and electronics. I built my first electronic-crystal radio when I was about 10 or 11. I still recall the radio shack kit stating you could pick up airplane frequencies, but I just hoped it would work. When I first turned it on and tuned it I picked up something I will never forget. We lived by an Air Force Base, and F4 Phantoms would fly over our house all the time. Amidst the crackle and static I distinctly picked up some radio chatter of call signs and technical jargon I didn't quite understand. I was at my customary spot in my south facing window, and i could see that the sun had just set. I was looking desperately up in the sky, thinking it had to be airplanes, but could see nothing. Then I heard it "*call sign" this is *call sign* what say we rise the sun!" "*call sign* this is *call sign* let's do it!!" After which I hear nothing but static and crackles. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea of what they might have meant, until I talked with my dad after rushing in to tell him what I had heard. They were going to fly far enough towards the horizon that the sun would appear to them to rising upwards. This and endless hours fixing electrical problems on the car and boat with my dad sealed my long time love for all things technical.

My mother had read endlessly to me when I was a child. She says it was because I was her first. Whatever the reason it cemented in me a love for fantasy. Winnie the Pooh and his endless adventures were first, and then later a series of blue cloth bound books that contained the stories of Merlin, King Arthur and his Knights, some of the 1001 Arabian tales and and endless retinue of myths and fairy tales filled my young years. I am convinced this is one of the reasons I responded so strongly to D&D when I first encountered it.

Which was when I turned 12, encountered D&D that was. It was at a Boy Scout meeting, which is also rather geeky in many good ways. But this story I've already written about several times, so I won't go into details here. But it did turn me on to fantasy literature for which I will be ever in debt.

By the time I was in high school, I was all geek. Though admirably good looking for my clique and relatively charismatic (humble too) I simply didn't fit in with the "in" crowds. I saw them as hopelessly out of touch with stuff that really mattered, like whether we were going to be invaded by aliens, or if we already were; not to mention none of them knew Monty Python from a hole in the head. No, I hung with the best crowd of friends a guy could have--gamers, sci fi enthusiast, Tolkein aficionados, comic collectors (oh i really should have included my introduction to comics--which I did Elementary time for when I was caught stealing them from the reading room), Dr. Who fans and guys who knew a phaser from a disruptor blindfolded in a Vulcan sandstorm.

Yes, being a geek was good, is good and will be good for all time.

Thanks for the challenge Grey Elf!